I have put a fair few hours in over the years in the Thetford Forest complex, searching for Long-eared Owl. My best views of this crepuscular species have always been on migration, but that all changed when Ricky and I descended into the forest in early June following a tip-off and a from Shaky which suggested I might finally achieve the views I had craved. Locations will not be given out for obvious reasons.
Arriving at the site around 9pm, we inadvertantly flushed 3 young birds which had been roosting on the ground, a slightly different spot to a day or so ago. Stepping back, we listened as the Owls began to squeak. Naturally curious, it did not take long for the young to begin a few practise flights, one particular bird confident enough to fly past us as we stood flabbergasted in the ride. I knew as I watched this unfold, this was a wildlife highlight I would look back on with fondness for the rest of my days. Feeling as if we had taken up enough of their time, and to allow the adults to arrive with food, we left just after 9.30 and headed back. On route, we had a Nightjar veer overhead against an almost purple-tinged sky and at least 5 were heard churring that evening. At the clearing where we started, I commented that it was really too dark to pick out an adult hunting on the far side. I need not have worried, for right on cue an adult passed a metre or so above us and proceeded to hunt a margin in front of us! The perfect evening had just got better. What was most intriguing, was trying to pin this adult down to a nest. For, after another short walk, we picked up another 2 young at a different nest. A lack of Tawny Owls in the area was a good sign that quietly, these birds have established themselves here over many years and are doing OK. Throw in the Tree Pipits, Viper's Bugloss and a moon that ate up the sky, and I had finally nailed Long-eared Owl in The Brecks in the best possible manner with an accompanying cast of thousands.
Photo courtesy of a West Ham fan.